WELLINGTON, New Zealand – All 13 people aboard a New Zealand skydiving plane that suffered an apparent engine failure Wednesday managed to leap out in parachutes moments before the plane plunged into a lake, according to authorities.
Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said there were six passengers, six crew members and a pilot aboard the plane operated by Skydive Taupo. She said all of them landed safely and that some had been checked by medical staff but she didn't believe any suffered significant injuries.
She said each of the crew members had planned to tandem dive with one of the passengers, and they managed to do just that as they abandoned the aircraft after the apparent engine failure. She said the pilot also leaped to safety in a parachute.
Roy Clements, the chief executive of Skydive Taupo, said in a brief statement the plane encountered an engine problem shortly after it had taken off. He said transport authorities were on their way to the crash site to begin an investigation.
On its website, the company offers skydives from up to 15,000 feet which come with up to one minute of freefall: "You shimmy to the door until your feet are dangling over the edge. 3..2...1. out you go!!!!!" the company's site says.
Robbie Graham, an artist who works at the Wildwood Art Gallery in the town of Waitahanui, said he was standing in front of the gallery when he saw a number of people in parachutes coming down above the lake about 0.6 miles away. He said he didn't see the plane crash.
"I saw all these people coming down, and I thought that was a crazy place to be coming down, that they would all end up in the lake," he said.
He said the area is popular for skydiving but most people typically leap out of planes a few miles to the north, near the Taupo Airport and above dry land.
He said the parachutists were about 656 feet above the water when he saw them, and the only thing that made sense to him was that perhaps they were engaged in some kind of training exercise.
It was unclear whether any of those aboard landed their parachutes in the water or whether they all managed to maneuver them to shore before landing. Police initially said the pilot landed in the water and swam ashore but Perks said more recent information indicates the pilot may made it to shore before landing.
Graham said it was a stunning day and that many holidaymakers would have witnessed the crash from a nearby beach.
Lake Taupo is popular among holidaymakers and tourists at this time of year, during the Southern Hemisphere summer.